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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE BATTLE OF ROOSEBEK

[175] CHARLES THE WISE was anxious that his little son should be well trained for his kingly duties.

Before his death he had sent for two of his brothers, the Duke of Bern and the Duke .of Burgundy, as well as for his queen's brother, the Duke of Bourbon.

To them he entrusted the little prince, saying, "Behave to him as good uncles, and counsel him loyally in all his affairs. All my trust is in you; the child is young and fickle-minded, and great need there is he should be governed by good teaching."

For the Duke of Anjou, his other brother, the king had not sent, because he knew him to be selfish, greedy, ambitious, and unfit to take charge of his little nephew.

If the little prince was fond of excitement and games, it was only natural, and he had simple, boy like tastes. Shortly before his death Charles v. told his son that he might choose any one of his most beautiful jewels. The boy glanced at the sparkling stones, then passed them by and chose instead a little helmet. Beside the helmet he hung at the top of his bed a tiny suit of armour, too small to wear, but which seemed to give great pleasure to the little prince.

While the boy-king was young, his four uncles ruled his kingdom. They were called the "Princes of the Lilies," because on their shields they bore the royal arms of France, gold lilies or fleur-de-lys  on a background of blue.

There are different legends told about the fleur-de-lys.

[176] Far back, in the time of the Merovingian kings, the royal banner was blue with gold lilies. At first it is supposed the emblem was meant to represent the head of a javelin, or it may have arisen from the custom among the Franks of placing a "reed or flag in blossom," instead of a sceptre, in the hands of each newly crowned king. In the Middle Ages the fleur-de-lys  was the emblem of the Virgin Mary. It was also often to be seen in church banners and altar decorations. In 1789, as you shall hear, the beautiful banners of the fleur-de-lys  were replaced by flags of blue, white and red, called the Tricolour.

The Duke of Anjou was one of the "Lily Princes." He was very angry that Charles V.had not summoned him to the royal bedchamber along with his brothers. But though the dying king did not know it, the duke had hidden himself in the next room, and the moment his brother had breathed his last he seized the crown jewels, and all the gold and silver he could find. He then asked the treasurer to tell him where the king had concealed the rest of his wealth.

The treasurer made an effort to be true to his dead master, and said that he had promised not to tell. Without a moment's hesitation the Duke of Anjou ordered the faithful servant to be beheaded.

But the man's faithfulness could not stand so severe a test, and he hastily told the duke where he would find the king's secret treasure.

It was this greedy duke who was now made regent. But he had no wish to stay at home and govern France, for his heart was set on becoming King of Naples. So he raised an army to march into Italy to fight for the crown he longed to wear.

But he could not leave France as soon as he wished, for although he had seized the treasures of Charles v., the duke had not enough money to pay his soldiers, so he laid heavy taxes on the citizens of Paris.

[177] The townsfolk refused to be taxed to pay for the duke's foreign wars. Arming themselves with clubs or any weapon they could seize, they killed those who came to collect the taxes. Then working themselves up into a frenzy, the mob broke open the prisons, and set free the prisoners to join in the riot.

Even the greedy duke saw that he must abolish his taxes if he wished to quell the revolt before more harm was done. So he promised to reduce the taxes, and the citizens, trusting to his word, laid down their arms.

No sooner had they done so than the duke ordered the leaders of the riot to be arrested. Then, in the dead of night, he made his soldiers tie them up in sacks and throw them into the river Seine. The cruel duke then went away with his army to Italy.

But misfortune dogged his steps. Before he had been long in Italy food began to run short, and it was impossible to buy provisions, for the King of Naples took care that none should be sent to the prince who had come to take his crown.

The duke offered all he possessed for food, but in vain. His anger and want of proper nourishment left him an easy prey to fever, which now attacked him, and from which he never recovered.

Philip, Duke of Burgundy, then became regent. This was the Philip who fought so bravely by his father's side at the battle of Poitiers.

Almost at once he was forced to march into Flanders to put down a rebellion of the burghers against the Count of Flanders.

The burghers were led by Philip van Artevelde, a son of the great brewer who had helped Edward III. at the battle of Sluys.

When the burghers heard that the Duke of Burgundy, with the young king and an army, was coming to punish [178] them for their rebellion, they were dismayed, for the English had refused to come to their help.

Philip van Artevelde, however, assembled his captains, and bade them have no fear, for they were defending the liberties of their country.

"Tell your men," he said, "to show no quarter. We must spare the King of France only; he is a child, and must be pardoned. We will take him away to Ghent and have him taught Flemish."

Meanwhile, the Duke of Burgundy, who had reached Flanders, had given the young king into the charge of Oliver Clisson, who had been made constable after the death of Guesclin.

Clisson knew it was an honour to have charge of the little king, but he also knew that his soldiers would need him in the midst of the battlefield. He therefore begged Charles to excuse him.

The boy-king answered, "Constable, I would fain have you in my company to-day. You know well that my father loved and trusted you more than any other. In the name of God and St. Denis, do whatever you think best." So Clisson went back to his soldiers.

At Roosebek, not far from Courtrai, where you remember the Flemings had won a great victory, another battle was now fought in 1382.

Philip van Artevelde, seeing the numbers of the French, began to lose a little of the great confidence he had had, while the French insolently said, "These fellows are ours; our very varlets might beat them."

The Flemings, however, fought bravely, tying themselves together so as to advance in a solid body upon the enemy.

But Clisson was a good general, and soon he had surrounded the burghers, and was attacking them on every side. It was impossible for the burghers to escape, and even had they been able they would probably have been too proud to flee from the field. Thus almost the whole [179] army of Ghent perished, while the leader of the rebellion, Philip van Artevelde, was also slain.

As the Flemings now again submitted to their count, the French were soon able to march home. Charles was proud of his first victory. He himself took the Oriflamme, which had been at the head of the army, back to St. Denis, and the following day he marched with his army into Paris.

The loyal citizens came out, as was their custom, to welcome their king, to rejoice in his victory. But Charles and the Duke of Burgundy refused their homage, and curtly bade them begone. For the citizens had rebelled against the heavy taxes imposed on them by the regent, and the king, urged by his uncles, now resolved to punish them.

Perhaps the victory at Roosebek had made the king eager to use his power. In any case, more than three hundred of the principal citizens were, in 1382, put to death by his order.

Among these was one named Jean des Marests, a clever lawyer, who had often during the last two years made peace between the regent and the people. But he had also advised the citizens to carry arms and put up barricades for the defence of the city when the regent had increased the taxes.

Jean was condemned to death, in spite of all his good offices. On the way to the place of execution he was put on a car "higher than the rest, that he might be better seen by everybody." He was seventy years old, yet when he heard his cruel sentence he remained undisturbed, saying only, "Let them come and set forth the reasons for my death."

When Jean reached the place of execution, the people cried, "Ask the king's mercy. Master Jean, that he may pardon your offences."

"Des Marests, when he heard the people's words, answered, I served well and loyally his great-grandfather, King Philip, his grandfather, King John, and his father, Charles. None [180] of these kings had anything to reproach me with, and this one would not reproach me any the more if he were of a grown man's age and experience. I don't suppose that he is a whit to blame for such a sentence, and I have no cause to cry him mercy. To God alone must I cry for mercy, and I pray Him to forgive my sins.'

When the citizens had been duly punished, the taxes, especially the hated salt tax called the Gabelle, were again imposed.


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